I spent this past holiday season in Germany with my love and his family. Last year he had spent the season with me in California, so it was my turn to switch. It was my second time being away from my family during Christmas and although I missed them, it was great to celebrate the festivities in my loves home country so I can better understand and appreciate the German culture. Although the spirit and traditions were similar to other European countries that I have visited during December, it had its own spirit that I felt was worth blogging about.
Instead of documenting my whole holiday experience, I listed the traditions that stood out to me the most and that I plan on incorporating in the future.
My good friend Justine happened to be in Germany this past November and helped me whip up a lovely Thanksgiving, or “Friendsgiving” feast at our place in Berlin. While my other half and his friends were at work, we cooked and baked all the traditional dishes. It was a success, but obviously this isn’t a holiday that is celebrated in Germany. Being the American that I’m, I continue to celebrate the holidays most important to me no matter my location. I’m programmed to start allowing the Christmas spirit to enter my soul right after Thanksgiving, so naturally, I was ready to start bumpin’ the Christmas jams and decorating on November 29th. One of the first things I noticed in the supermarkets were the Adventskalendar. The “Advent Calendar” as the name suggests, is used to count down the days leading to Christmas.
The Advent season in 2019 began on December 1st so it was quite fitting for the calendar, as they all start on December 1st although the actual first day of Advent varies every year. It was first used by Lutherans in the 19th century and over time gained popularity by all people. The calendar has 24 day,s each represented by little doors. On each specific day you open the door and grab the chocolate treat inside. There’s an array of calendars to choose from at any store but this is the most common one found in households. Each morning I looked forward to popping open a door and eating some Kinder chocolate.
Perhaps the most popular thing to do throughout Germany in this time is visiting the Christmas markets or “Weihnachtsmarkt”. Christmas markets are found throughout the world, especially Europe, but it’s important to note that they began in Germany. Traditionally they were hosted in the town square of most cities and are made up of open aired stalls selling food, drinks, and seasonal goods. Now, it’s common to have multiple markets in the same city, for example, Berlin has over 70 markets that its residents and guests can visit.My first Christmas market that I ever visited was at Union Square in NYC, and I will say the focus in the states is more on the artisan handcrafted goods, whereas in Germany it’s more about the food, drinks, and sweets. I visited about five in Berlin and the only one Braunschweig. They were all relatively the same, some more glamorous than others.The Gendarmenmarkt Market in Berlin was one of my favorites to visit. Despite the fee of one euro, it was stunning. Lights all around, and pretty icy decor, made it seem like you were in a winter wonderland. There was also an ice queen roaming around, which added for some extra smiles and photos.During the week they had live entertainment which helped spread the holiday cheer. Singing the lyrics of well known songs always helps create a sense of community. The markets run for the whole month of December so you won’t have to worry about missing one.
I have loads of photos from the food that I devoured at the market but instead will just mention a few. Of course sausages and meat are a big part of the culture, but since we are vegetarian, we ordered some delicious sides like rosmarinkartoffeln, potatoes seasoned with loads of butter, rosemary, and cranberry sauce. Knödelwerkstatt, a sort of dumpling soup, and Grünkohl, a super savory kale dish.
There were other savory dishes that I tried but let me move on to the sweets. The sweets dominate every market. From roasted nuts, to fried cheese, stollen, chocolate covered fruit, waffles, candied apples, and more, you have to try at least a few if you ever visit. My favorite sweets were actually not German, they were the poffertjes, which are small pancakes that originate from the Netherlands. So much for that right! But make it a point to visit a market or five if you’re in Germany during December, you’ll see why it’s the most popular attraction.
This particular drink, just like mulled wine, is drunk all over the place. One thing I appreciate about Germans, or Europeans that live in chilly weather in general, is that they won’t let the cold stop them from having a good time. Glühwein dates back to the 1400s. Red wine is seasoned with yummy herbs and spices like cinnamon, vanilla, and citrus, heated up, and sometimes served with a shot inside. It’s the perfect combination of goods to heat up the soul and body. At every market I went to, folks could be found sipping on this and enjoying each others company. Of course, there are many other kinds of alcoholic and non-alcoholic holiday drinks, but this is one of the most common ones.
Feuerzangenbowlenbowle or, fire tongs punch, is one of the other drinks that I sipped on. It’s pretty much just mulled wine with an added rum soaked sugar loaf that is set on fire. Once the sugar is perfectly melted and caramelized, rum is poured into the mug. Traditionally the feuerzange, or tongs, held the sugar loaf, but modern contraptions have a metal grate where the sugar loaf can rest.
Baking and assembling a gingerbread house is pretty common even in the states but the art of baking and decorating it originates from Germany. The story of Hansel and Gretel by the Brothers Grimm helped popularize it. Since we had our own place and bought our first weihnachtsbaum (Christmas tree ) together, we figured this would be a cute activity to do. Europe has a long tradition of baking and selling gingerbread and gingerbread houses, since the 17th century in fact. So decorating one in the country that it came from, seemed pretty cool and traditional.
The Christmas gathering is celebrated on December 24, Heiliger Abend, which is Christmas Eve. This day is the most important out of the season for religious and non religious Germans. My loves family is not religious but have a few traditions that they engage in every year. This Christmas was very different for me as mine incorporates many Mexican- Ameircan traditions like, making and eating tamales, playing loteria, dancing, having a posada, etc., but what we did incorporate was bringing the piñata. We traveled from Berlin to the village of Bortfeld, in Lower Saxony, early on the 24th. Let me explain how the day went.First things first, I will say that as an American , we absolutely love our decorations and lights, this isn’t the case for Germans. Yes, you’ll find some lovely collectibles and decor but it’s overall pretty simple, which I truly appreciate.The festivities began around 3 pm. A German cheese cake, minus the Philly cream cheese, and coffee were served to kick off the day. While munching away, we conversed and listened to German Christmas music.Around 5 pm we started to prepare the food for the feast. For dinner we had raclette, a Swiss dish that is had throughout certain parts of Europe. Raclette cheese is cow cheese that is specifically made for melting. It used to be melted in front of fire but most families now use a table top raclette grill. Along with the cheese, many people also grill vegetables, meat, and have potatoes and pickles on the side. It all depends on the family but that’s what we did. It was delicious and filling, and in true European fashion, dinner wasn’t rushed, we sat at the table for a couple of hours feasting.About half and hour after dinner, we were led outside to sip on a German eggnog, called Eierpunsch. Eierpunsch means egg punch, and unlike our eggnog that has rum, this has white wine. We huddled, conversed, and waited for the “Weihnachtsmann” (Santa Claus) to come and place the gifts under the tannenbaum. My mother in law and love went upstairs to prepare the tree and gifts as the parents were distracting the children downstairs.
The Weihnachtsmann or Santa Claus, is popular, but not as popular as Santa Claus in the states. There were some malls that had a section for children to take photos with the Weihnachtsmann but overall, I will say he’s not a huge figure, especially in Berlin. I’m told that southern Germany is quite different from the North, religiously and politically. The south is primarily Catholic while the north is primarily Protestant. So I’m sure the festivities differ in every state. Another thing to note is that Sankt Nikoluas, St. Nick, also differs from the Weihnachtsmann.
On December 6th, families and children await the arrival of Sankt Nikolaus. On December 5th, children parade around with lanterns during the night and dress as Sankt Nikolaus, who is dressed like a bishop, especially in the more Catholic regions. Children leave a boot outside the front door at night and wait for him to fill it up with goodies overnight, but if they misbehaved over the year, they will receive a stick instead. Okay now back to how we celebrated after the drinks.
Once we made it back upstairs, the lights were turned off and the tannenbaum was lit with candles. The weihnachtsbaum or tannenbaum originates from a Pagan tradition and was later adopted by German Protestants. The custom of using the evergreen tree as an everlasting symbol is found in many cultures and was practiced amongst many pagan Europeans. When people started to convert to Christianity it was a custom that was kept during the winter season and eventually practiced by all, including Catholics.After the opening of gifts, we prepared the piñata that we filled with candy and tangerines. In Mexico, it’s tradition to have a nine pointed star piñata but we couldn’t find one so settled for the donkey.We took turns hitting it until the candy fell.The rest of the night was spent drinking, conversing, and playing Looping Louie.
We celebrated Silvester, New Years Eve, back in Berlin. The customs are pretty much the same as other countries, eating a nice dinner, drinking, playing with goofy knick knacks, and listening to music. There were though, a lot more fireworks going off than back home. Days before Silvester, kids light up the loudest fireworks all over and this practice goes on well past the New Year. We hosted a small gathering at our place, made some flammkuchen, Knödelwerkstatt, and sipped on champagne. Afterwards we celebrated at a bar until the neues Jahr arrived. Being that we were in Berlin we partied all night long and rang in the New Year with new memories. So that’s it, my holiday season in Germany. I’m looking forward to doing it again in a couple of years.